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The 400 yard medley relay team poses with their tro­phies during the G‑MAC Cham­pi­onships. (Brad Heeres | Courtesy)

The Hillsdale College Chargers had three con­ference cham­pions and placed second in the Great Midwest & Mountain East Con­ference in Canton, Ohio this past weekend. Head coach Kurt Kirner was also awarded G‑MAC Coach of the Year and Hillsdale won its first ever 400 medley relay team G‑MAC title.

This year the Chargers fought against 10 teams at the NCAA Division II con­ference, including their biggest rival Uni­versity of Findlay, but winning a score of 1572 points still brought them short, and the Chargers fell against Findlay again. Yet despite this lost, the ath­letes still won 21 medals and swam 44 per­sonal best and 52 season best times.

Grateful to everyone involved, Kirner said the award is truly a team reward and he couldn’t have gotten it without the team’s help.

“It’s a reflection of my staff, espe­cially Zoe Tracey [assistant swim coach] and the team,” Kirner said. “Good efforts involve great people.”

Kirner is not just a great coach but also  an amazing person to the team, said freshman Ste­fanie Walker. She said he con­stantly teaches them to become great swimmers and people, teaching them lessons beyond the swimming pool.

“He has a great char­acter to him, and his ultimate goal isn’t to make us better swimmers, but better people overall,” Walker said. “He def­i­nitely suc­ceeds in that goal.”

Freshman Anna Clark said Kirner’s award is well-deserved. With his passion for swim and love for the team, Kirner always inspires the team with great con­fi­dence and energy, Clark said.

“It’s obvious that he loves the sport when you talk to him and our team so much, and I always trust him whenever he says some­thing about my tech­nique or race strategy,” Clark said. “He said the award wouldn’t be pos­sible without the team, but the team wouldn’t be pos­sible without him.”

Sophomore Katherine Heeres ended the meet with a strong finish. She won the 200 back­stroke champion for the second time while breaking her third school record; she broke all three within those four days. Heeres said she focuses on her per­son­alized strategy for back­stroke, which differs from most swimmers, and getting com­fortable with applying it in races. This helped her sig­nif­i­cantly.

“I was able to notch a season-best and three per­sonal bests each, which also set school records,” Heeres said. “The 200 back­stroke is my absolute favorite event, which made it twice as exciting to win.”

Adding more to their vic­tories, senior Anika Ellingson won first in the 100 breas­troke within 1 minute and 2.83 seconds— 0.68 less than her Findlay com­petitor. Keeping up her sprinting tempo up as long as pos­sible, Ellingson said, was crucial to this win.

“You can’t die off on the the back 50 yards of the race,” Ellingson said. “That being said, uti­lizing your time under­water instead of on the surface is key in your race. My coaches and I really focused on those small sec­tions of the race because that’s where you can catch up and pull ahead.”

The Chargers also shone first in the 400 medley relay cham­pions with Heeres, Ellingson, senior Suzanne DeTar, and junior Catherine Voisin. The high stakes and direct teamwork are what made this race enjoyable, Heeres said. With DeTar and Ellingson as seniors, Heeres said this win was a great way to send them off at the end of their swimming career.

“‘The Band,’ as we have been referring to that relay all year, has been so much fun together and they are some of my best friends on the team,” Heeres said. “I’m proud to have won Hillsdale’s first 400 medley relay team G‑MAC title with those ladies by my side.”

After swimming her first G‑MAC meet, Clark said the overall event was thrilling. Clark placed in the top eight in all of her events, including third in 200 but­terfly, and swam four lifetime bests. Now that the season is over for most of them, Clark said she already misses prac­ticing and com­peting with the team.

“We gave Findlay some serious com­pe­tition and I was happy to help con­tribute to our success and score points,” Clark said. “Everyone stepped it up and swam some inspir­ingly fast races. It was so fun to support and cheer each other on.”

Despite their out­standing results, racing for four days proved to be very chal­lenging. Not only was it phys­i­cally draining, but the duration affected them emo­tionally and men­tally, Heeres said.
“I think I speak for the whole team when I say that none of us could do it on our own; we all needed the support from each and every girl,” Heeres said. “As I did last year, I came out of this weekend with a deeper appre­ci­ation for the team. There is truly no other team that I would rather be on than this one, right here.”

After the G‑MACs, Kirner said Ellingson is the only one qual­ified to compete at the NCAA Division II Cham­pi­onships. However, there might be a chance for Heeres to swim as well. For now, Kirner said he plans to keep Ellingson pre­pared for this meet.

“There’s always a bit­ter­sweet aspect of the end of another season,” Heeres said. “But this con­clusion held an extra special sweetness that none of us are likely to forget anytime soon.”